Bluetooth is a great feature for a pair of headphones, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a necessity. There are actually some advantages to using wired headphones, and despite the Bluetooth revolution, there’s still plenty of manufacturers crafting more traditional wired headphones targeted to everyone from casual listeners to serious producers and sound engineers. What we’re saying is that the market is wide, and winnowing down the results to the best wired headphones for you can take some time.
But you can just bypass that part. We’ve put together a review guide covering the full range of the best wired headphones in 2021, and we’ve put an emphasis on providing as much variety as possible. And if you decide you want to search further, we can guide you through the specs.
TL;DR - 10 Best Wired Headphones:
- Bose QuietComfort 25 Noise Cancelling Headphones
- Sony MDR1A Premium Hi-Res Stereo Headphones
- Vogek On Ear Tangle Free Cable Headphones
- Mpow 071 USB Headset
- Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphone
- Audio-Technica ATH-M30x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones
- GRADO SR80e Prestige Series Wired Open Back Stereo Headphones
- Edifier H840 Audiophile Over-The-Ear Headphones
- Artix CL750 Foldable Headphones
- Creative Aurvana Live! Headphones
1. Bose QuietComfort 25 Noise Cancelling Headphones
Still the Best Noise Cancelling Around
If you ask an audiophile to respond to the phrase "noise isolation" with one word, that word will probably be "QuietComfort". Bose is well regarded for producing some of the best noise cancellation technology available in headphones, and the QuietComfort series is their showcase for that tech. The QuietComfort 25 headphones are a little old now, but the noise isolation is as good as it's ever been, and that age means they're one of the best deals you'll find on headphones.
And the solid performance Bose is known for is at work here. Music or gaming effects sound clear and crisp across the entire frequency response range, without any over- or under-performance at any particular range. And these Bose headphones both look great and feel great over your ears. The ear cups are soft and pillowy while still having a nice sense of clamp to them, and the ANC tech means they don't have to be worn too tight.
2. Sony MDR1A Premium Hi-Res Stereo Headphones
High Definition Sound for a Small Price
The frequency response range that Sony offers for their MDR-1 headphones are pretty absurd. While the human hearing range extends to 20,000 MHz, these headphones offer five times that, and while it doesn't extend far down, the bass extends significantly beyond the lower audio range too. While that has less of an impact as hoped in terms of the highs, the sound stage and imaging here are truly some of the best around.
And you won't have to worry about spending a fortune on these headphones either. They retail for around a hundred bucks, and that's unlikely to go up anytime soon. In terms of body construction, the work here is very strong. These are some highly classy looking headphones with a premium finish, and they feel great on the ears too. Just don't expect them to offer you noise isolation approaching anything like the Bose QuietComfort line.
3. Vogek On Ear Tangle Free Cable Headphones
Ultra Cheap Without Sacrificing Quality
Are you looking for the best ultra cheap headphones available today? These headphones from Vogek offers one of the best prices, and well they can't manage exceptional sound quality for less than $20, they offer a whole lot of value for the price. The frequency response covers the whole range of human hearing, and the 50 mm drivers provide a decent amount of heft all things considered.
The comfort levels are pretty decent as well - and thanks to the inclusion of a built in mic, these headphones can even be used to send and receive calls. They're an especially solid choice if you're looking to outfit your office with some cheap but mostly effective equipment. And adding to the value of these headphones at the office, they employ a no tangle cable that will prevent snarls and nests of cables in your living room or cubicle.
4. Mpow 071 USB Headset
A Lightweight Business Solution
Mpow is a brand that's gaining a lot of traction due to its ability to provide reliable workhorse performance for a fraction of the price of most headphones, and it's actually one of the best headphones for the office around. The decently comfortable ear cups are accompanied by a headset for making and receiving calls, and the band and ear cups are designed to feel great even over the course of a full work day.
The inline controls are a bit bulky, but they give you all the navigation you need right at the touch of your fingertips. Cables are included for both 3.5 mm and USB connections, and these headphones are designed to be compatible with just about any operating system.And turning off the boom microphone is as simple as flipping it up. The ear cups can ever flip away easily when you need them to.
5. Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphone
Budget Priced Noise Isolation
Sennheiser headphones are practically worshipped by audiophiles thanks to the meticulously sound engineering at work in them, but getting Sennheiser headphones often means dropping hundreds of bucks. The HD280PRO offers Sennheiser's trademark sound profile for a fraction of the price. You can't expect a whole lot of advanced features with these headphones, but they instead focus their attention on what matters more in headphones: sound quality and comfort.
The role of these headphones is primarily monitoring, so that means that there's a nice level of consistency and flatness across the whole frequency range, and while it doesn't have the most expansive sound stage, it certainly offers some of the best imaging for a $100 modela. The noise isolation is some of the strongest you'll find outside of headphones that offer legitimate ANC, and the soft and larger design of the pair of ear cups result in a very comfortable feel.
6. Audio-Technica ATH-M30x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones
Serious Studio Monitoring Performance
The Audio-Technica ATH-M30x looks a lot better than you could expect from some budget headphones at this price - but since it's produced by Audio-Technica, you can also expect them to perform a lot better than the price would suggest. The metallic headband is highly adjustable, while the ear cushions are highly durable, and a switch locks them in space to keep them secure during longer gaming sessions. There's also a plastic hinge that helps it rotate when you need it to.
There isn't any noise cancellation tech available, but it doesn't suffer that much for it. The tight fit and very plush headphones do a great job of isolating noise, making it one of your best choices for cutting back distracting sound at home. And if you decide to take them on your commute, they can fold into themselves to take on a far more compact form.
7. GRADO SR80e Prestige Series Wired Open Back Stereo Headphones
Grado headphones look like nothing else on the market. With a stripped down and industrial design that calls back to the golden age of radio, they're some of the coolest looking headphones around, and they also sport an open back design. While that means you don't want to wear them on your daily commute, the form factor creates one of the best sound stages around just as long as you can control the environment you're listening in.
Fortunately, the sound performance here is a real treat. The bass in particular manages to provide some depth to the bass while still keeping things tight and preventing too much bleeding or interference. The open backed design means the sound doesn't linger too much, and that turns these headphones into a chameleon that can play just about anything and make it sound lively and meaningful.
8. Edifier H840 Audiophile Over-The-Ear Headphones
Edifier builds headphones for professional monitoring. Can the budget priced H840 match the best studio monitors around? Hardly. But the specs and build quality here defy the ultra low price tag, and they're actually a great choice for aspiring audiophiles operating on a tighter budget. There's a sense of naturalism to the sound profile that's hard to find for a lower price, and these headphones cover the whole range of human hearing while maintaining a decently high decibel level.
Best of all, they feel pretty good even after extended use. While the ear cups will be a little smaller for some listeners, they sport a comfortable ovular design and they're well padded and wrapped in imitation leather for both a durable and a comfortable fit. These headphones will be a great introductory pair of monitor headphones or a backup for pros who want something to bring with them on the go.
9. Artix CL750 Foldable Headphones
With their bright and bold coloring scheme, the Artix CL750 clearly distinguishes themselves as headphones that aren't built for professional use, but they're one of the best pairs of headphones for teens or less demanding adults, and they're available for a more than affordable price. These are headphones you can pick up as an impulse buy and not feel too difficult.
But if you do pick these headphones up, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the realization of how convenient they are. The fact that they use a simple 3.5 mm AUX cable means that they can connect to practically any modern source device you can imagine, and they're designed to fold safely back into themselves for the sake of easier travel. And you can even use these headphones to take calls. A headset is conveniently built in, and all the volume controls are positioned for easy access.
10. Creative Aurvana Live! Headphones
The Creative Aurvana Live! is a pair of headphones that might not get much attention at first because they fit into the middle of the pack in most qualities. They're reasonably priced but not the cheapest headphones around, they're comfortable but not packed with any particular ergonomic features, and they provide a nice level of balance to their sound reproduction.
But that even keel approach to headphones design is what makes them one of the best around. The everyday user isn't looking for the best of the best, and the CAL does perhaps the best job of unifying all of the different aspects most consumers are seeking out in headphones. The sound leakage is also pretty strong, and the 3.5 mm cable can be converted to a quarter inch for usage with more serious audio equipment.
Wired Headphones Buyer’s Guide
Together, the wired headphones on our list constitute some of the best on the market, but once you start to hit that upper echelon of performance, you also start having to look to make sacrifices. If you’re looking for a pair of headphones, “best” performance will vary depending on what you need. Our guide will run you through the best headphones specs and help you understand the features you should be keeping an eye out for when tracking down wired headphones.
Wired vs. Wireless Headphones
While we obviously haven’t included wireless headphones in this list, they continue to be the elephant in the room. So what are the differences between the two? The most important is the pricing. It’s rare for consumers to have a limitless headphone budget, and that means that money that would be invested in wireless capabilities means sacrificing sound quality, comfort, engineering, or some other factor. You get more bang for your buck for other metrics when going for wired headphone models.
While wired headphones come with the inconvenience of having to connect your device directly with a cable, these products come with a major head start in one factor: battery life. Unless you’re using advanced features like ANC, battery life isn’t going to be a big deal with wired headphones, but it can absolutely take a pair of wireless headphones out of the running entirely. And in terms of audio quality? The truth is that there’s not really a discernible difference for most digital music formats.
Obviously, wireless headphones come with the added benefit of not needing to worry about battery life. While battery life will be an issue for some wired over-ear headphones with tech heavy special features, how many hours of battery life you can get will be a secondary concern rather than a major consideration.
How much should frequency response matter when evaluating a pair of headphones? It’s an important indicator of audio quality, but it’s not as important as some manufacturers make it out to be – primarily because of the fact that the numbers aren’t a precise indicator of audio quality. Frequency response refers to the auditory frequencies – ranging from deep bass at lower frequencies all the way up to highs like treble and vocals. The human hearing range goes from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz, but many headphone models extend well beyond that.
Since their drivers are positioned right by your ears, having a higher frequency response is a bigger deal than with a set of speakers. Having the entire range of human hearing makes music sound far more accurate than it otherwise would, and extending beyond that can provide better imaging and a strong sound stage. In other words, the broader the range, the more realistic the positioning of different instruments in virtual space.
The issue is that there isn’t a standard for measuring frequency response, so what a manufacturer says isn’t necessarily the most accurate indicator of quality. Further, the hardware components and technology can also impact sound quality too. For that reason, a lot of the higher end over-ear headphones manufacturers don’t even list it. Frequency coverage can be a good cheat sheet for quality, but first hand opinions of audio quality are just as important to pay attention to.
“Sensitivity” in short is a way to determine the maximum listening volume for music and other audio. The sensitivity level is normally listed in a simple decibel level, but why is it referred to as “sensitivity” rather than just maximum volume? Because, just like with frequency response, the actual number is just a single vector point in determining listening sound quality.
And just like when measuring listening frequencies, there are virtually no standards for how to measure the maximum listening volume in music. Sensitivity is generally a measurement of how loud your listening experience can go before it starts registering notable distortion, and the way one manufacturer measures their wired on-ear headphones may be different from another over-ear headphones brand.\
But if you’re just looking for ballpark figures (and that will be fine for everyone but serious audiophlies looking for the best music listening experience), the listed sensitivity will probably tell you all you need to hear. Looking for wired headphones with a sensitivity level approaching 100 or in the low 100s should be suitable for most audio.
The majority of wired headphones are also over-ear headphones. In-ear headphones are largely underrepresented, but if you want in-ear headphones you can check out our guide to the best sets of earbuds. Since they project sound into the whole cup encompassing the ear rather than directing the drivers directly into the ear canal, these headphones tend to have a more spacious sound stage.
But there are a few design wrinkles that mean you should pay a little closer attention beyond whether you’re looking at in-ear or over-ear headphones. The models on our list encompass both open-back and closed-back models. While both of these types are over-ear headphones, they have unique advantages and disadvantages. An open-back design expands the sound stage even more since the sound isn’t stuck completely inside the ear cups. But that also means that they offer almost nothing in terms of noise isolation.
One thing that has a tendency for inexperienced shoppers seeking out over-ear headphones is the difference between isolation and noise cancelling. If you’re investing in open back headphones, noise isolation is going to be practically non-existent, but the capabilities with a more traditional pair of over-ear headphone models mean they should be a consideration.
“Noise cancelling” refers to the non-technological methods that manufacturers use to block out audio and music from outside the cans of the over-ear headphones. Normally, that’s accomplished by making sure that the over-ear cans make as tight of a seal as possible around the wearer’s ears. The quality of the materials can also affect the noise cancelling qualities of a headphones, but since it can’t be quantified in a numerical value, you’ll need to pay attention to reviews to know the quality of the noise cancelling capabilities.
Noise isolation is a horse of a different color. These are mostly present in over-ear headphones, though some earbuds and open-back models make use of them too. A model with isolation creates audio frequencies that counteract the frequencies outside the headphones, but this type of audio tech costs more money and can drain your battery life. But since these headphones connect through a cable, how many hours of battery life you have to worry about is generally less of a deal then it would be with wireless headphone products.
How good music and audio sound coming from your headphones is obviously going to be one of the most important considerations when shopping for a headphone model – but if you’re going to be wearing them for long hours at a time, you’re going to want them to feel comfortable. The most comfortable headphone model is going to vary from one customer to a consumer, but there are generally two factors to consider when seeking out a comfortable model: how plus they are and how well they disperse heat during long hours of usage.
Seeking out a nice balance is going to be important for most customers. Thicker memory foam creates a more comfortable experience, while mesh materials and perforations help disperse heat. This considerations often work at odds with each other, so you should try to find a sense of balance when seeking out these products.
For models that aren’t wireless, you have two real considerations of what sort of cable connects to your source device: USB and 3.5 mm. A 3.5 mm cable, also known as an AUX cable, really benefits from its versatility. Most modern devices come with support for a 3.5 mm cable. In contrast, support for USB audio cables is less common, but since it uses its own sound card rather than the drivers in your computer, it’s a solid choice if you connect regularly to a computer with a less than impressive sound card built in.
Wireless headphones aren’t the be all and end all, and we’re pretty impressed with the variety of models available. Whether you want tremendous bass, a convenient way to listen to music on your daily commute, or balanced studio monitoring, you’ll find a whole lot to love here. And we encourage you to share your opinion if you’ve used any of these products before.If you liked our article on wired headphones, please share and comment below what your favorite product is.